The great love of one man’s life is wavering between his career and his partner in Sleepwalk with Me, a film that expertly paddles through the complicated subconscious and repressed feelings of a faltering comedian.
Matt Pandamiglio (Mike Birbiglia) is working in a bar doing the occasional bit of stand-up comedy and waiting to get noticed. His supportive long term girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose) is ready to take the next step in their relationship but Matt is hesitant. Matt’s anxiety toward his life expresses itself via a series of bizarre sleepwalking incidents that get increasingly dangerous.
Birbiglia directs, performs and writes (with co-writers Ira Glass, Joe Birbiglia and Seth Barrish) Sleepwalk with Me from his personal experience that was previously a one-man Broadway show as well as a book that appeared on the New York Times best seller list. Birbiglia approaches the film like a stand-up comedian with a reflective storytelling mode. Birbiglia’s character Matt (essentially he’s playing himself) talks directly to camera breaking the fourth wall like Ferris Buellerinhis 30s. The film features the pseudo narration that phases into scenes of Matt’s life. The narration provides a running commentary on the film’s events with insightful comedic observations very attuned to the comedy styles of Jerry Seinfeld with a touch of the neurosis of Woody Allen.
From Matt’s perspective it’s a walk down memory lane as the relationship between Matt and Abby grows. Abby is the idyllic compassionate partner who is patient and beautiful – this reviewer was a little smitten. Ambrose is wonderful and her natural beauty compliments the kind heart of her character. Despite kind of playing himself, Birbiglia does a good job of portraying a deeply flawed character who slowly becomes an underdog worth cheering for.
The analysis of long term relationships in Sleepwalk with Me is poignant and witty as Matt and Abby begin to feel the seven or eight year itch (they are losing count and that is surely a sign). Discussions of marriage and babies occupy conversations and each character seems to be unable to express how they really feel to the other without the fear of disappointment. There is a still a spark of love between the two but it has grown comfortable and lazy over time. Birbiglia does a great job of visually expressing the emotional mindset of Matt and a little bit with Abby. Matt’s fears are amplified in his dreams that are so strong they break into reality. Abby’s intentions are left lying around like clues for Matt to figure out such as a DVR loaded with a plethora reality television shows with a certain niche. Outside pressures present themselves in the form of nagging parents and wedded siblings that push the point a little too hard in the film.
With so many repressed feelings Birbiglia finds a way to allow Matt let off steam through his stand-up. With candor and cynicism Matt begins to express his feelings about his relationship to complete strangers with success. He is betraying Abby’s love and it is a tad upsetting but it’s a cathartic process for the character. There is something interesting about reciprocal nature of Matt and Abby’s relationship and how it fuels Matt’s stand-up.
So often in films that tackle a looming mid-life crisis or long term relationship woes the characters are so contrived. Birbiglia delivers a film with characters and situations that are honest and affecting. It’s a film about the one before the one that can appear in life as person or career prospect (for some people a job is the love of their life). It’s bittersweet but Sleepwalk with Me manages to cherry-pick the strength and flaws of great love and express them in a touching way that’s not cheesy or over romanticised.
[rating=4] and a half
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies